Tag Archives: fear of memory loss

Memory Loss and Money Matters

Yesterday I met with our new financial planner—Ralph would never have accepted the idea of a financial planner before now— and I was so anxious about the meeting that I left my laptop at the coffee shop where I’d just had lunch. Fortunately the coffee shop found my computer, and our retirement account is earning exactly the return the planner promised.

Money is not a subject I find comfortable to discuss. I have always been the artsy/intuitive, some in my family might say ditsy spouse. Even after I started working part-time in Ralph’s business office, using QuickBooks to make deposits, pay the bills and balance the books, I maintained the persona of Earth Mother not Business Woman. My domain was feelings; Ralph’s was the bottom line and money matters. (One important exception: using the example of my mother who used her coverage for her health aides, I successfully pressed Ralph to purchase long-term care insurance four years ago. Thank God.)
Since Ralph’s diagnosis, I have been thrust into the weird position of trying to think the way Ralph used to think about business and money. Well, that is not quite accurate because as I sort out our finances, I sometimes find myself disagreeing with the decisions he made.

Especially those he made in the last few years as his memory began to slip from his grasp. He had slacked off, clinging to outdated business habits and letting his assistant make more and more decisions. When she moved away and I became more actively involved at Ralph’s office, I saw the reality: while I worked ten hours a day, he came in at 11am and left at 3pm with an hour for lunch; he sat in his office reading magazines while I handled all the day-to-day matters. And yes, I was resentful to put it mildly. Still we continued to pretend he was in charge. He didn’t want to believe otherwise and frankly neither did I.

Then came the diagnosis of MCI/Early Alzheimer’s and suddenly there was no pretending we could go on as we had. We agreed that our longtime accountant and lawyer needed to know about Ralph’s condition early on. We quickly updated our wills and made sure that powers of attorney, including responsibility for health decisions, were in place.

As for Ralph’s business, the retirement that we had talked about, yet avoided for so long was now mandatory. Since Ralph’s business for the last 35 years had been managing rental properties he owned, selling the business meant selling individual properties one at a time, no simple matter.

As we began the process of talking to real estate agents and taking offers, it quickly became clear that Ralph couldn’t keep straight which real estate agent was which, which property was under contract, how much we should be asking, or how much was being offered. To tell the agents or buyers our situation would place us at a disadvantage, so I have found myself covering for him and acting as a kind of pseudo-go-between.

What has evolved is a kind of charade. The agents may not know officially about Ralph’s condition, but they have to sense something is odd. Ralph chats with them jovially, but I’m the one who responds to the offers. Ralph and I discuss the sales as if he is equally involved in the decision-making, but actually he cannot remember the details long enough to analyze them, so I make decisions with the help of our accountant and lawyer.

I have learned to be a tough bargainer, which I hate. I have learned to say no, which is incredibly difficult. I have learned to play on others’ sympathy, which has not been so difficult. Aging feminist that I am, I kind of like playing the helpless female.
And I have learned to manage our money, sometimes in ways that Ralph would not have accepted. While I have involved our son, another artsy type but with Ralph’s hardheaded business sense, in some meetings, ultimately I have made the tough decisions on my own. I had three closings in the space of six weeks. A fourth property is under contract now. I turned over some of our property to another management company that rented our office in the city. I now have an office at home.

Every day or so, sometimes three or four times within an hour, Ralph asks how much money we have in the bank. I tell him. Then he asks if we’ve paid off our mortgage. I tell him yes. Then he asks if we have enough to live on. I tell him yes again. Ralph, who used to walk and talk calculations down to the smallest fraction, doesn’t want to know details. He’s always satisfied with my answers. He trusts me completely.

Before MCI, I used to chafe at his controlling nature and complained that he didn’t trust my judgment. But the truth is, I was glad to shirk financial responsibility off on him. Now I have it, and it is lonely and scary, like so much of what being Ralph’s wife has become.

Alzheimer’s Radar?

I attend a reunion of my 20-something daughter’s childhood friends and their mothers. Although we never quite developed enduring independent friendships, I always liked the other mothers a lot and enjoy catching up on our lives over glasses of Chardonnay.

One of my favorite moms, Jane, begins to joke about how bad her memory is getting, how her kids tease her that she has Alzheimer’s because she’s always misplacing her keys and her coffee cup. When everyone laughs, I laugh along, or at least smile gamely.

But self-pitying resentment bubbles up–how can she make light of a situation that feels so heavy to me. Of course, my resentment is patently unfair. Who doesn’t hit 50 and start joking about Alzheimer’s?

I used to kid Ralph all the time about his growing forgetfulness. That is until the day my daughter took me aside to say I should stop the teasing because he was probably terrified. But for Ralph and me, as long as we joked it wasn’t real.  I look at Jane with new concern and sense genuine fear under her lightheartedness.

I don’t know Jane or the other women well enough to share that Ralph and I are coping with Alzheimer’s ourselves, but I am tempted.

Weeks later, I am still wondering if I should I have taken Jane aside and reached out to her.

What If My Memory Goes Next?

I can believe I haven’t thought of this before (i.e. remembered) while trying to empathize with Ralph’s cognitive impairment, but  I have actually experienced a similar discombobulating state of memory loss myself: a short spell of amnesia years ago after falling 10 feet down from a filled hay wagon:

I was helping Ralph gather up bales in the field of our farm. The last thing I remember is how sticky, itchy miserable I was standing at the very top of five layers of hay bales  in the old Chevy truck-bed as I declared to Ralph that I would never help him bring in the hay again.

Then I was lying on the ground, or so I’ve been told.

For the next few days I continually asked Ralph to remind me the basic facts about our lives. I don’t know what the exact questions were, but I do remember continual foggy confusion and jagged moments of panic, then the enormous relief as facts returned to my consciousness.

Now Ralph lives with what is probably a more difficult mix of confusion and panic on a regular basis and there’s no relief in sight. While  his daily menu of donezepil, namenda and lexapro keeps him stable for the time being, he knows damn well there’s  no real cure, that his lost facts are not going to miraculously return.

Meanwhile, my memory in most areas–not counting names, numbers and my car keys–is  relatively sharp.

What makes me nervous is an article I read  that people with a history of concussions are prone to memory loss as they age.  I have also read, somewhere else, the worrying possibility that Alzheimer’s spouses are more likely to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s themselves.

I would offer a link to those articles here, if I could only remember where I found them.

Diagnosis: Mild Cognitive Impairment Limbo


In my last entry Ralph realized his memory problem was serious enough to require a doctor’s visit. His doctor Andy recommended we make an appointment with a neurologist specializing in memory issues but warned it might take months before we saw anyone. Meanwhile he urged Ralph to get his cognitive skills tested by a neuropsychologist soon as possible.

The neuropsychologist was not exactly warm and snuggly as he asked Ralph preliminary questions. Ralph was defensive. Well, so was I sitting silently by his side. The tests themselves took three hours;  I waited in the lobby with a book. Driving home, Ralph said the tests were silly. He thought he aced them.

There was nothing silly about the second meeting, during which the psychologist gave us the test results. He did not mince his words in person or in his written report. Although Ralph’s problem solving skills and IQ were still high (though not as high as they used to be), his memory was down in the single digit percentages: MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT was definite and EARLY ALZHEIMER’S likely.

Ralph was angry, unwilling to accept the results. I didn’t tell him that I secretly felt relief because someone was taking my reality seriously. Or that I was petrified because someone was taking my reality so seriously, that it had a name.

Three months later we had our first appointment with our neurologist at the Memory Clinic.

More tests, same conclusion. But partly because Doc L. was such an easy-going, approachable and likable guy , we came away less worried. Mild Cognitive Impairment didn’t sound so bad coming from him.

A month or so later Doc L. did the spinal tap, a procedure that is relatively new in diagnosing Alzheimer’s but has proved extremely accurate.

A few days after that, I was caught in rush hour traffic and almost didn’t answer my beeping cell phone.But as soon as Doc L. said his name, I pulled over and parked…shocked he was calling me personally.

Ralph’s spinal tap showed the plaque build-up consistent with Alzheimer’s.

“But he doesn’t have Alzheimer’s Disease now.” Doc quickly reminded me. “He is still diagnosed with the condition MCI.” He has the condition, not the disease.

Not yet. Mild Cognitive Impairment– MCI –may not be Alzheimer’s Disease, but the plaque build up confirms that Ralph is not one of those lucky people diagnosed with MCI  who don’t have brain changes consistent with Alzheimer’s and might get better(go to Watching the Lights Go Out for a ray of ambiguous optimism). On the other hand, even for those like Ralph with telling changes, the boundary between MCI and Alzheimer’s is blurry at best, and research shows the timeline for development is unpredictable. It could take two years or twenty. Meanwhile, we have rewritten our wills, closed Ralph’s business and put our financial house in order.

“MCI,” I say when Ralph asks me to remind him yet again about his diagnosis. MCI I tell our kids and closest friends. MCI I tell myself.

No need to speak the word “Alzheimer’s aloud these days. Not yet, I tell myself, not yet.

In Retrospect– The Beginning of Ralph’s Memory Loss

While no two cases are the same, the stories we caregivers share about how cognitive impairment crept into our lives are often similar.

Ralph’s memory started to get noticeably worse about three years ago. For the first year and half or so, we joked, haha it must be  Alzheimer’s, whenever he forgot the conversation we had just had. My daughter told me we shouldn’t joke because he was probably worried about losing his memory. But frankly joking and teasing made it feel less serious to Ralph as well as to me.

Gradually his behavior changed. Never the most observant husband, now he didn’t seem to be paying attention at all. He never seemed to listen. He would ask me a question and then ask it again ten minutes later, or five minutes or two minutes.

“I just told you,” I’d sputter. “Well tell me again,” he’d shout.  It wasn’t pretty.

At night as soon as dinner was over he went into the bedroom and watched tv. Often he fell asleep by 8 pm. He pooh-poohed my suggestion to see a doctor.

At the small business we ran together, he did less and less while I worked harder and harder. Yet he would get angry if I questioned him. I began to go around him to get work done.

Not the recipe for a happy working relationship, let alone marriage.

And then the situation became worse.

….to be continued